It's one thing to talk about open-source software like Linux becoming easy to use and a joy to look at, but it's quite another to actually fund the development of such improvements. Mark Shuttleworth has talked a lot recently about desktop Linux becoming as easy and beautiful as Mac OS X. Now he's ready to fund the talk.
In his introduction to the next Ubuntu release, Jaunty Jackalope, Shuttleworth hints at a vision of Ubuntu's "once-in-a-lifetime chance to shine," and he says, "we want to make sure that the very best thinking across the whole open-source ecosystem is reflected in Ubuntu." Jono Bacon, community manager for Ubuntu, puts a little substance behind Shuttleworth's suggestion, outlining how Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, will help guide sponsorship dollars to developers that want to improve Ubuntu.
...Canonical is [increasingly] in a position to drive real change in the software that is part of Ubuntu. If we just showed up with pictures and prototypes and asked people to shape their projects differently, I can't imagine that being well received! So we are also hiring a team who will work on X, OpenGL, Gtk, Qt, GNOME and KDE, with a view to doing some of the heavy lifting required to turn those desktop experience ideas into reality. Those teams will publish their Bzr branches in Launchpad and of course submit their work upstream, and participate in upstream sprints and events. Some of the folks we have hired into those positions are familiar contributors in the FLOSS world, others will be developers with relevant technical expertise from other industries.
And so it begins. To date, Novell has been the primary "upstream" contributor to the Linux desktop, though Red Hat and others have also been involved. Unfortunately, these participants have primarily been concerned with the enterprise Linux desktop, which is more utilitarian in its ambition than what I suspect Shuttleworth has in mind.
The Mac has carved its way into the enterprise because it has created devout consumer evangelists who insist upon bringing its aesthetics and utility into the enterprise. For desktop Linux to succeed, it must become much more enjoyable to use. People must want to use it.
Shuttleworth understands this. This is the right step for Canonical. Some open-source developers see aesthetic beauty as a nice complement to the Linux desktop. It's not. It is core, at least if the Linux desktop is to have a prayer of going mainstream.